Despite the ominous lawsuit looming over RIM's US operations, the company unabashedly continues to refresh its BlackBerry line with new products. Its most recent offering is the 8700 series, which consists of two handhelds: the 8700g and 8700v. The only tangible difference between the two models is that the former will run on the Optus and Telstra networks, while the latter is designed for Vodafone. They also differ slightly in aesthetics, with the 8700g offering up a navy blue chassis, while the 8700v is mostly silver.
All variants of the 8700 series will be available throughout the country from 1 March 2006.
The big hoo-ha surrounding the 8700 series results from RIM's switch to an Intel-based architecture. It uses the Intel PCA901 cellular processor, and boasts 64MB flash memory as well as 16MB SDRAM. Our initial, albeit limited, testing showed a significant speed boost, with applications loading virtually instantaneously. RIM also promises an increased battery life of up to 16 days standby and four hours talk time.
At its core the BlackBerry is designed for mobile business users, with its primary function being "push e-mail". Put simply, e-mails automatically get "pushed" directly to the handset, much like regular SMS text messages. The device allows for up to ten e-mail accounts to be running simultaneously, and supports Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino and most poular ISP e-mail accounts. More specific information regarding how the Blackberry service works can be found in our review of the 7250 model.
Naturally, having convenient access to e-mail wherever you are is a boon for workers who spend much of their time on the road. It's also great for home office users who require some flexibility in where and how they work.
Unlike most mobile devices, e-mailing on the BlackBerry is far from cumbersome, thanks to the full 35-key QWERTY keyboard. What's more, the slim, ergonomic design allows the unit to be operated single-handedly.
In addition to e-mail, the BlackBerry 8700 also offers full phone functionality. It supports quad-band GSM/GPRS networks, therefore allowing for seamless international roaming provided your carrier supports this function. Of course, speakerphone, smart dialing, conference calling, speed dialing and call forwarding features are all included.
Browsing the Web is painless thanks to the integrated full HTML Web browser and bright QVGA (320x240) LCD display. One would think that such a display would cannibalise battery life, but RIM has attempted to minimise this by adopting "intelligent auto-sensing technology", which automatically adjusts the LCD and keyboard lighting to suit the environment. We saw this feature in action at the device's launch, and it was impressive to say the least.
If you're not a business user, the BlackBerry probably isn't for you. This is because it lacks many of the features found on consumer-targeted smart phones such as music/video playback support and an integrated camera.
It's also fairly expensive. The handset alone will cost you AU$799, while monthly access fees range from around AU$50 to in excess of AU$100. Once you factor in the cost of your regular mobile phone service on top of this, it's clear that only avid mobile business users need apply.
Finally, one other small qualm we had was that left-handed users will find it difficult to navigate the menu system using the scroll wheel, which is located on the right-hand side of the device. That said, lefties shouldn't have a problem adapting to using their right hand -- we didn't.
The BlackBerry 8700 series is ideal for mobile professionals that require always-on e-mail access, but its cost and functionality won't be attractive to most non-business users.